Joshua 3

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Verse 3-4: and commanded the people, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it.” (NRSV)

  • The ark going out in front is very symbolic. It is the sign of God going in front of the people, and a reminder that this is a fulfillment of God’s promise, not just conquest.
  • The people had not set foot in this land for hundreds of years. While they knew this was their promised land, they didn’t know much about it at all.
  • This following of the ark wherever it goes is very reminiscent of the tribes following the cloud of smoke and the pillar of fire in the wilderness. Again, a powerful representation of God goes before them.
  • Two thousand cubits is about a thousand yards.
    • Such an extreme distance would have made the ark out of view regularly in the mountains of Israel, and definitely made it vulnerable to attack.
    • This is a spiritual statement that they were choosing to respect God and let God protect them instead of the other way around. With this distance they couldn’t protect the ark. It was God’s job to do that.


Verse 7: The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. (NRSV)

  • This exaltation of Joshua has a very practical component. The people knew that Moses was God’s messenger and still revolted regularly against him. Joshua’s leadership needed to be boosted by a miracle early on to solidify his leadership and the people’s trust that he spoke for God.


Verse 10: Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: (NRSV)

  • This list of peoples shouldn’t be seen as exclusive. There were other groups in the area as well that were driven out.
  • This might also be an outdated list. For instance, the Hittites hadn’t been in control of the area, of anywhere around, for about 30 years.
  • This list does not list the Philistines, or the Phoenicians. These people came from the sea about 1200 BCE, and so were just arriving from the West as Israel attacked from the East.


Verse 13: When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.” (NRSV)

  • This is often talked about as a repeat of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, but it is quite different. There the water was divided by a wind on both sides of them, because it was standing water. This is a river and so blockage on one side would dry up all the rest of the river, which is what happened here.


Verse 15: Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, (NRSV)

  • The Jordan river currently has a dam just south of the Sea of Galilee. This has dropped the flow down to about 1% of what is once was. It no longer overflows, but is now the size of a large stream, hardly a problem crossing it.
  • Israel and the Sinai Peninsula are on a tectonic plate, slowly sliding northward, and the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee to south of the Dead Sea is right at the fault line. This has made the river to lie in a deep valley along most of its way.
  • Because the Jordan is in a valley, when it reached flood stage it would often simply have more water confined in the same space, making the water very fast and furious.
  • The priests being able to just put a foot in the Jordan indicates that they were crossing in a flatter area where the Jordan had flooded its’ banks and slowed down a bit.
  • Since Israel is a hot place and does not know snow often, it makes sense to invade during the Fall and winter so that travel during the day would not lead to heat stroke or other problems.


Verse 16: he waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. (NRSV)

  • Because the Jordan River is on a fault line, minor quakes are common, and because it is in a valley, any rockslide can easily block the entire river until the water builds up enough power behind the blockage to break free.
  • It is important that the water does not pile up right at the feet of the Israelites, but upstream significantly, unlike the crossing of the Sea of Reeds/Red Sea.
  • Adam is about 12 miles north of Jericho, well out of sight. The Israelites would have only found out about where the water went later on.
  • There have been many attempts at explaining this miracle. The most common explanation is an earthquake on the fault line that caused a landslide and blockage.
    • Regardless of the cause, this was a miracle. The timing and the effect were caused by God to further God’s purpose.
    • The problem with the earthquake is that it would have been felt by the Israelites and we have no mention of anything like that.
  • Because this is a river, and entire area south of the blockage would be open to the Israelites to cross over. So this would have been a flood of people, basically replacing the flood of water that moments earlier had been in that same valley.
  • This miracle would have been easily noticed by everyone in the area because the Jordan River was the main life source of the entire area. Any change in it would have been noticed and passed on by everyone in the area.
  • There is a symbolic meaning to this crossing that would have been evident to the people around.
    • The River was the most powerful force around. It was life, and now it was cut off at flood stage, when it was at its most powerful.
    • This was very similar to God proving God’s power over each of the Egyptian gods in the Exodus. God here is proving that He is stronger than the strongest force the people of the land knew.
    • There is also an element of a flood of water being cut off to be replaced in the same location with a flood of people, God’s people. This would have been a very powerful statement to everyone in the land.


Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

 VerseDirectionTopicAudienceOccasionCategory
Communion Memorial14-4:24We need memorials to remember what God has done in our lives.memorial
Communion
GeneralCommunionMessage Idea